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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The life and career of James Abbott McNeill Whistler has been studied in great depth for several centuries and this has helped uncover a number of attributable quotes that we include here.

Few American artists have been so closely linked to one of the most significant periods in European art history and so that nation continues to remain enthusiastic about his achievements. Whistler was an influential artist in his own right and during this time most communication was completed by letter, many of which have been uncovered in the years that followed.

Whistler was known to be a passionate, emotional man. Quotes and opinions from his life would therefore not to be hard to find. He was famously angered by the British art establishment's treatment of his most famous painting, Whistler's Mother. This was to become his signature piece and it only just made it into the Royal Academy's exhibition when submitted. The personal hurt that he suffered was later subdued by the success that the same painting achieved in France. It may not have been the only case of an artist sensitive to criticism, but he would never forgive the British art establishment for their unfair treatment of his work.

Famous Quotes by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Nature is usually wrong.

It takes a long time for a man to look like his portrait.

An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.

Work alone will efface the footsteps of work.

I can't tell you if genius is hereditary, because heaven has granted me no offspring.

To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano.

I am not arguing with you - I am telling you.

You shouldn't say it is not good. You should say, you do not like it; and then, you know, you're perfectly safe.

If other people are going to talk, conversation becomes impossible.

The rare few, who, early in life have rid themselves of the friendship of the many.

An artist's career always begins tomorrow.

I maintain that two and two would continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five.

The vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story which it may be supposed to tell.

You should not say it is not good. You should say you do not like it; and then, you know, you're perfectly safe.

To say of a picture, as is often said in its praise, that it shows great and earnest labour, is to say that it is incomplete and unfit for view.

Quotes about James Abbott McNeill Whistler by Famous Artists and Art Historians

In our beginnings, Fantin, Whistler and I were all on the same road, the road from Holland [Dutch 17th century painters]

Edgar Degas

histler makes dry-points mostly, and sometimes regular etchings, but the suppleness you find in them, the pithiness and delicacy which charm you derive from the inking which is done by Whistler himself j no professional printer could substitute for him, for inking is an art in itself and completes the etched line. Now we would like to achieve suppleness before the printing. I saw two prints exhibited in Paris a year or two ago; they were rather delicate, meager and thin-looking, one would have to see a whole collection in order to judge them, for doubtless he [Whistler] has done some that are first rate.

Camille Pissarro